DuBois. Chapter Summaries with Notes / Analysis

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The Souls of Black Folk opens with a \”Forethought
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,\” in which DuBois directly addresses the reader, introducing the essays that comprise the text and outlining its main themes. DuBois tells the reader that \”the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line.\” This statement is repeated throughout the text. The issue of the \”color line,\” or the division of African Americans from the rest of American society (namely, \”white\” society), is the main theme of this text.
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DuBois begins Chapter One
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DuBois begins Chapter One by discussing what it means to be a \”problem.\” He says that people never come right out and ask him what it is like to be a problem; although he knows they consider him a problem because he is African American. Instead, people talk about nice African Americans they know or tell him about how they fought in the Civil War to end slavery. DuBois is polite when people say these things. Following this introduction, DuBois recalls an incident from his childhood in New England. One day, DuBois and his school mates were exchanging visiting-cards. DuBois was shocked, when a girl who was new to the school refused his card. He realized, then, that he was different from the other children (who were, presumably, white). DuBois then decided he lived within the veil and held contempt for those who lived outside of it. After some time, DuBois’s contempt faded and he decided he would do something important with his life. DuBois outlines the classification of the races (Egyptian, Indian, Greek, Roman, Teuton, Mongolian, Negro) and says that the \”Negro\” is a seventh son with the gift of second-sight. DuBois calls the second sight a \”double consciousness,\” explaining that African Americans always see themselves through others’ eyes. Thus, DuBois argues, the Negro is constantly striving to merge his various selves in a quest for self-conscious manhood: he wishes to be both a Negro and an American. DuBois claims that the promises of the freedom for African Americans, fought for in the Civil War, remain unfulfilled. Even though African Americans were given the right to vote following the war, they were disenfranchised after Reconstruction ended. DuBois argues that African Americans should not be judged by the same standards as the rest of the world until they are equally free and given the opportunity to address the social issues that have been forged in their oppression.
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DuBois begins Chapter 3
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DuBois considers the ascendancy of Booker T. Washington, which he calls \”the most striking thing in the history of the American Negro since 1876.\” DuBois argues that while Washington was not the first to conceive of an industrial school, he was the first to ally a school that focuses on trades with \”the best\” Southerners. DuBois summarizes how Washington began Tuskegee University and discusses how significant this achievement was, commenting that Washington was able to curry favor with both northern and southern whites. While DuBois pays tribute to what Washington has accomplished, he also discusses the many people, particularly African Americans, who disagree with Washington’s theories. DuBois concedes that some black men may criticize Washington because they are envious but maintains that many educated black men oppose Washington. DuBois is critical of Washington because he believes Washington promotes a policy of submission for African Americans in asking them to give up fundamental privileges.
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DuBois begins Chapter 13
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DuBois tells the story of two Johns, one black and one white, who grew up in the same southern town and both went away to school. Although he resisted doing so while in school, the black John returns home when he graduates and begins a school for black children. The white John also returns, but is restless and wants to move to New York City. The Judge closes the black school because he does not believe John is teaching the black children subordination to white. The day the school closes, the white John is bored at home. He takes interest in the black John’s sister, who works at his house, and sexually assaults her. The black John happens upon this attack and kills the white John, saving his sister. The black John tells his mother he is going North. The story ends with the suggestion that the black John is awaiting the lynch mob.
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14 and after thought
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In Chapter 14 DuBois discusses sorrow songs, or songs that were sung among the slaves. DuBois tells us that the songs have not gotten the attention they deserve, as most people do not know much about these songs. He tells the story of Gregory L. White, a northerner who fought in the Civil War and ended up teaching Sunday school in the South. He heard songs and formed a nine-person group, called the Jubilee singers, and took them on a tour (which included Europe) to raise money for Fisk University. DuBois is interested in exploring the meaning of these songs. He admits that he does not know anything about music, so he cannot say anything technical. However, he does know about men and he knows that these are unhappy songs that reflect the sorrow of slavery. Additionally, these songs, particularly the music, are very, very old. To illustrate this point, DuBois shares a song that his father’s grandmother sang to her child on slave ship from Africa. This song was handed down in DuBois’s family for over 200 years. DuBois closes the book with an Afterthought, in which he expresses his hope that people will pay attention to what he has said in this book and that racial prejudice will begin to be resolved.
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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES / ANALYSIS CHAPTERS 1 – 2: Forethought
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The Souls of Black Folk opens with a \”Forethought,\” in which DuBois directly addresses the reader, introducing the essays that comprise the text and outlining its main themes. DuBois tells the reader that \”the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line.\” This statement is repeated throughout the text. The issue of the \”color line,\” or the division of African Americans from the rest of American society (namely, \”white\” society), is the main theme of this text. DuBois notes that some the essays collected in this volume were previously published elsewhere and each begins with a bar of African American music. Finally, he tells the reader that he lives within the Veil. DuBois begins Chapter One by discussing what it means to be a \”problem.\” He says that people never come right out and ask him what it is like to be a problem; although he knows they consider him a problem because he is African American. Instead, people talk about nice African Americans they know or tell him about how they fought in the Civil War to end slavery. DuBois is polite when people say these things. Following this introduction, DuBois recalls an incident from his childhood in New England. One day, DuBois and his schoolmates were exchanging visiting cards. DuBois was shocked, when a girl who was new to the school refused his card. He realized, then, that he was different from the other children (who were, presumably, white). DuBois then decided he lived within the veil and held contempt for those who lived outside of it. After some time, DuBois’s contempt faded and he decided he would do something important with his life. DuBois outlines the classification of the races (Egyptian, Indian, Greek, Roman, Teuton, Mongolian, Negro) and says that the \”Negro\” is a seventh son with the gift of second-sight. DuBois calls the second sight a \”double consciousness,\” explaining that African Americans always see themselves through others’ eyes. Thus, DuBois argues, the Negro is constantly striving to merge his various selves in a quest for self-conscious manhood: he wishes to be both a Negro and an American. DuBois claims that the promises of the freedom for African Americans, fought for in the Civil War, remain unfulfilled. Even though African Americans were given the right to vote following the war, they were disenfranchised after Reconstruction ended. DuBois argues that African Americans should not be judged by the same standards as the rest of the world until they are equally free and given the opportunity to address the social issues that have been forged in their oppression. Notes Throughout this text DuBois uses the terms \”Negro\” and \”colored.\” At the time, Negro was the most widely-accepted term for describing someone of African descent. In the 1960s and 1970s \”Afro-American\” became the preferred term and today it is \”African American\” or \”black.\” In these essays, DuBois coins the significant, interrelated terms: \”the veil\” and \”double-consciousness.\” For DuBois, African Americans were separated from American (\”white\”) society by a metaphorical veil. This veil produced the effects of double-consciousness, meaning that in their separation from whites, African Americans were forced to see themselves through white America’s eyes as well as their own.
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CHAPTER 3 Summary
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In this chapter, DuBois considers the ascendency of Booker T. Washington, which he calls \”the most striking thing in the history of the American Negro since 1876.\” DuBois argues that while Washington was not the first to conceive of an industrial school, he was the first to ally a school that focuses on trades with \”the best\” Southerners. DuBois summarizes how Washington began Tuskegee University and discusses how significant this achievement was, commenting that Washington was able to curry favor with both northern and southern whites. While DuBois pays tribute to what Booker T. Washington has accomplished, he also discusses the many people, particularly African Americans, who disagree with Washington’s theories. DuBois concedes that some black men may criticize Washington because they are envious but maintains that many educated black men oppose Washington. DuBois situates Washington within the history of black male leadership in American history, highlighting, especially, the strength of Frederick Douglass, who, even in his old age, \”bravely stood for the ideals of his early manhood—ultimate assimilation through self-assertion, and on no other terms.\” Conversely, DuBois calls Washington a \”compromiser between the South, the North, and the Negro.\” DuBois is critical of Booker T. Washington because he believes Washington promotes a policy of submission for African Americans in asking them to give up three fundamental privileges: 1. political power, 2. civil rights, 3. higher education. DuBois sees three major results of this policy, which he argues Washington is not solely responsible for but has helped develop: 1. the disenfranchisement of the Negro, 2. legal inferiority of the Negro, 3. the withdrawal of aid from Negro institutions of higher learning. DuBois argues that African Americans cannot make economic progress if they lack political rights and opportunities to develop as men. Thus he claims Washington faces a \”triple paradox\”: 1. Negro artisans cannot become businessmen and property owners if they are denied suffrage; 2. African Americans cannot be self-respecting if they continue to be submissive; 3.Washington advocates industrial education for African Americans, but even Tuskegee could not survive without teachers trained in Negro colleges. DuBois offers some suggestions for how black men should respond to their current circumstances. He argues that the South should not be judged blindly, as the present generation is not responsible for the past and there are many good southerners. He also argues that African American men have a duty to oppose some of Washington’s ideas, even if he is an important leader. DuBois recommends praising the good Washington has done but advocates standing up against propaganda that devalues black votes, that supports an emasculating caste system, and that does not value higher education. Notes In this chapter DuBois cautiously criticizes prominent black leader, Booker T. Washington (1856-1915). DuBois believes Washington is promoting an assimilationist strategy for African Americans—specifically, African American men, as he does not directly address African American women. While DuBois acknowledges that Washington has done much good for the race, he believes black men must take him to task on three important issues. First, DuBois argues that African Americans should pursue their right to vote. At this time, despite the 15th Amendment, many southern states implemented poll tax laws, which required male citizens to pay a tax to vote unless their father or grandfather had been able to vote (ensuring that even poor white men could continue to vote). These laws were not repealed until the 24th Amendment was passed in 1964. Additionally, many whites threatened or enacted violence against blacks who attempted to vote. Next, DuBois believes Washington is not strict enough in his pursuit of civil equality for African Americans, who were often found guilty of petty crimes (such as vagrancy) and leased to plantation owners to work off their debt, effectively perpetuating serfdom. For more on the experiences of civil inequality by African Americans in this period, see Douglas Blackmon’s Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II (2008). Finally, DuBois is critical of Washington’s advocacy of industrial/ trade schools for African Americans. While DuBois saw the value in schools that would prepare blacks for trades, he also promoted the idea of the \”talented tenth,\” explained further in another 1903 collection of his essays, entitled The Negro Problem. DuBois argued that one in every ten African Americans had the ability to be a leader of the race. In encouraging black men to amass wealth or to learn a trade, DuBois believed the opportunity would be missed to cultivate the talented tenth into educated, \”real\” men
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CHAPTER 13 – and Afterthought
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Summary In Chapter 13, DuBois tells the story of two Johns, one black and one white, who grew up in the same southern town and both went away to school. The white John, the Judge’s son, went to Princeton. The black John went an unnamed school. The black John had difficulty at first, but after he was asked to leave the school for a semester on account of his behavior, studied very hard and became serious. At one point, the two Johns meet in New York City, where they both attend a performance that the black John is asked to leave because of his skin color.Although he resisted doing so while in school, the black John returns home when he graduates. The African-American community is thrilled to see him and plans a huge party. Everyone notices how solemn John is, now that he is more keenly aware of racial injustice. John offends his neighbors when he mentions that what religion a person is, or whether or not a person even has a religion, is insignificant. The black John asks the Judge for permission to open a school for blacks. He is granted permission, on the condition that he will teach the other blacks to know their place in the racial hierarchy. When the Judge hears that John is teaching his black students about the French Revolution and equality, he promptly closes the school. In the meantime, the white John has also returned from school. Instead of giving back to his community, he wants to move to New York. On the day the Judge closes the black school, the white John is bored at home. He takes interest in the black John’s sister, who works at his house, and sexually assaults her. The black John happens upon this attack and kills the white John, saving his sister.The black John tells his mother he is going North. The story ends with the suggestion that the black John is awaiting the lynch mob. In Chapter 14 DuBois discusses sorrow songs, or songs that were sung among the slaves. DuBois tells us that the songs have not gotten the attention they deserve, as most people do not know much about these songs. He tells the story of Gregory L. White, a northerner who fought in the Civil War and ended up teaching Sunday school in the South. He heard songs and formed a nine-person group, called the Jubilee singers, and took them on a tour (which included Europe) to raise money for Fisk University. DuBois is interested in exploring the meaning of these songs. He admits that he does not know anything about music, so he cannot say anything technical. However, he does know about men and he knows that these are unhappy songs that reflect the sorrow of slavery. Additionally, these songs, particularly the music, are very, very old. To illustrate this point, DuBois shares a song that his father’s grandmother sang to her child on slave ship from Africa. This song was handed down in DuBois’s family for over 200 years. DuBois reviews some of the songs he placed at the beginnings of the essays that comprise this collection and notes a progression in slave music: African to African-American, to a blending of African music and American music. DuBois argues there is a fourth step in this progression: white music influenced by slave songs. DuBois closes the book with an Afterthought, in which he expresses his hope that people will pay attention to what he has said in this book and that racial prejudice will begin to be resolved. Notes These last two chapters of the text are a creative departure from the previous sociological/ political treatises. In Chapter 13, DuBois uses the story of the two Johns to illustrate the disadvantages a man faces because of race, even when he has the best intentions. The Johns were childhood playmates from the same town. As they grew older, their relationship ended and their opportunities diverged. The white John went to an Ivy League school and the black John to an unnamed technical institution. Both men return to their hometown upon graduating. The black John wanted to give back to his community by teaching, while the white John, lazy and restless, yearned for the big city. Ultimately, the black John met a tragic end because of the white John’s recklessness. In this chapter DuBois acknowledges that even if black men take his advice (acting as an example for the rest of their communities once they have become educated) they still encounter grave challenges. In the final chapter DuBois examines the music that was fostered in slavery. In this creative essay, DuBois considers how these songs have been passed down through the generations and the purpose they served. In its aim, this chapter closely resembles DuBois’s religion essay, in which he considered the function of the church in the black community. This essay concludes with a brilliant condemnation of racial prejudice, in which DuBois argues that the white establishment’s vast ignorance has subjugated African Americans. These final essays have an angrier, much less restrained tone than the previous chapters. In his previous chapters, DuBois tempered his critique of both the black and white communities. However, in these essays DuBois clearly demonstrates the cruelty and ignorance of white America. The reader might consider that DuBois was trying his best not to alienate his audience and, therefore, relayed his harshest criticism through fiction.

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